At Jennings Brewery in the Western Lake District they’ve been brewing beer since 1828 using soft Lakeland water from their own well. A good thing too, because as I learned, the secret to great beer is great water. If you have a ready supply of clean, pure H20 you can chop and change your other ingredients – hops, barley and yeast – as much as you like. The myriad combinations will create a diverse range of brews to rival the kaleidoscopic variety you find in whisky or wine.
I took a tour of Jennings to experience how beer has been made for centuries, see the fermentations bubbling away and smell the heady sweetness of the hops.
A good deal of beer aficionados on the tour were interested in the chemistry of brewing – the magical properties of yeast for example. But for me it was the rich brew of history, tradition, even the lexicon of beer-making, which proved fascinating. Jennings use hops (the flower of the climbing hop plant) with wonderful names like ‘Fuggles’ to give their beers a bitter tang and the beers themselves are called things like Sneck Lifter, Cocker Hoop and Soggy Bottom.
We also learnt that medieval Brits were slow to adopt hops in brewing (we picked this up from our Dutch cousins as late as the 16th century), why the brewery is said to be haunted and the interesting fact that in England, northerners traditionally like a large foaming head on their beer whereas southerners like the faintest frothy smudge.
The tour ends with a tasting session in the atmospheric Old Cooperage with a chance to sample Jennings’ range of beers and even pour your own pint. A must for beer fans and anyone who thinks beer is just pale fizzy lager. From warming treacly stout to floral pale ales perfect in summer, the range of beers at Jennings and across Britain is dizzying. Get touring and get tasting.